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Tiffany's Adventures in China

A Long Journey

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Picturesque views of Chengde and the Summer Resort. Embellishments, gilded roofs, and lavish decorations on the temple buildings. This is only some of what one will find at the largest Buddhist temple in Chengde. We walked through about four hundred steps to reach the top of the temple, and Mr. Liu explained to us the strange coloring of the main building's roof, which appeared to be part grey and part gold. Apparently, the grey parts, which was only on the lower areas of the roof, were tiles with the gold leaf scraped off the top and sold for money before 1949.

We had some excellent panoramic views from the top of the temple and I really enjoyed examining the intricate artwork that adorned the sacred walls.

Later that day after a grueling five hour bus trip returning to Beijing, we enjoyed a McDonald's "order-whatever-you-wish-to-eat" meal. Even the normal "McChicken" sandwiches here aren't just plain chicken with crispy stuff on the surface-- actually, I ordered a supposedly "mild" chicken sandwich and it was more picante than even a Carl's Jr. spicy chicken sandwich! I'm glad I changed my mind about ordering the "regular" spicy McChicken.

Then we took an overnight train from Beijing to Luoyang. The station was jam-packed with people. Tons of people. Some were milling around, some were waiting for others, but most of them were expecting their trains to begin loading, much like we were. I chatted it up with Mr. Controy as the speakers blared with announcements regarding various information, all in Mandarin, of course. We didn't really know what the announcements were about, really, but whenever they did come on, we stopped talking-- it's impossible to speak over a chaotic combination of hundreds of people shouting to each other and a PA system trying to out-volume the shouting individuals. The cacophony of sound continued as our group boarded the overnight train.

The trip was slightly uneventful, but it was a pretty amazing experience (the longest train ride I've ever been on lasted less than forty-five minutes). Becca, Maha, and I hung out with Amanda, Wendy, Master Ping, and Ping's son (whose favorite phrase is "ohmigod!" spoken very quickly and with the fluency of one word), who are staff members with the tour agency. We viewed the pictures taken during the Great Wall hike/climb, and they ranged from the extremely scenic to the incredibly ridiculous. Most of us didn't even go to sleep until the midnight hours, but the pure joy made up for the lost hour(s) of sleep.

As for today, we started on our way towards Shaolin Temple; however, there was a short stop to see the Longmen Grottoes. I actually didn't know what was meant by "grotto" until we really saw the place. However, on the way there our new local guide explained that "long" means "dragon" in Chinese (the symbol of the emperor) and that "men" means "gate." We entered the Dragon's Gate and were met by strange holes in the cliff walls. Upon further examination and explanations, the holes revealed the Buddhist statues that were carved centuries ago.

The Longmen Grottoes were reserved only for the royalty to create a Buddhist statue in their name. Not that their names were actually carved on these statues, of course-- at least, not any that remain to this day-- but the imperial members could make a "donation" to the emperor and these statues, ranging from four centimeters to 17.4 meters, would be carved for them; this supposedly brought good luck and prosperity.

There was a certain grotto (bit more like a shallow cave, actually) that contained 13,000 little Buddhas carved into the sides of the cave. I wondered at the intensive labor it must have taken to create all of those images, detailed as they must have been when they were first carved. Years upon years of work must have been put in by the men who had been commissioned to create the entire place, a great work in progress. Though the grottoes stand today as symbols of the might and power of China's great dynasties, the work of the common people must not be forgotten--their pains and labors made these semi-indestructible monuments to history exist. These are the people we should remember, too.

And now I am sitting in a comfortable bus seat, leaning my head against the window and watching the scenery pass by (or, I should say, WE are passing it by). I see workers putting new buildings together and think to myself that these are also ones that must not be forgotten either.

We are on the way to Dengfeng now. From there, Shaolin Temple isn't far. I have a feeling that the next few days will be some of the most memorable of my teenage years.

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Karen Wells said...

You sure can pack a ton of information into one post. I leaned a lot and, in fact, went back and reread your post to make sure I got it all the first time. I'm glad you took time to look at some of the photos. Today I ordered 357 prints from the photos we took on DSA South Africa. This is my second time to order. Now I just have to get all 500 plus in a photo album. I should have limited my spending, but there were too many great pictures to choose from.

Harv said...

What a great time! I love to read about all the details of what you are doing and seeing each day. It's like reality TV. Ha! Have fun learning Kung Fu.

Changing Connections said...

You are giving Cory a run for his money on blogs that come to life with scintillating details. An interesting paradigm shift with McDonald's McChicken ala picante. Wonder what the Chinese would think of our comparatively bland MickeyD.

You mentioned that the gold was scraped before 1949. Was a government prohibition placed against removing the gold, or was there no more to scrape?

Did the traffic make the bus ride grueling? I love your use of language: out-volume and cacophony.

Your description of the grottos/cave add a dimension I did not get from other student posts. Thank you for that. China seems very involved in displays of might and power, yes?

Xiu xiu for a great post.

RJ Stangherlin
PA DEN Leadership Council Blog Coordinator

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Essential Programs Details

Duration 15 days
When August 4th - 18th, 2009
Focus History/Culture
Martial Arts
Modern/Ancient Architecture